UN Human Rights Council Issues Early Report on War Crimes in Ukraine

Written by Tyler Kibbey

September 26, 2022

On Friday, September 23rd, the Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, Erik Møse, issued an initial report following the exhumation of a mass burial site documented in the city of Izium, Ukraine. The update presented by the Commission reports on their investigation into alleged war crimes perpetrated against Ukrainian civilians and military personnel by Russian Federation soldiers as well as “two incidents of ill-treatment against Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian forces”.

While the Commission’s scope of inquiry is currently limited to violations of personal integrity  occurring in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy in early 2022, this initial report lays the evidentiary groundwork for a potential international criminal tribunal for Ukraine. After visiting 27 towns and settlements as well as interviewing more than 150 victims and witnesses, the Commission concludes that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,  including but not limited to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, indiscriminate attacks, summary and arbitrary executions, torture, unlawful confinement,  and sexual/gender-based violence. The Commission is also continuing to investigate alleged instances of the forced transfer of people to places of unlawful confinement in the Russian Federation.

Despite the Russian Federation’s refusal to issue a formal declaration of war, the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia established international precedent for treating crimes committed in armed conflict as war crimes in its 1995 Prosecutor v. Tadic decision concerning the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. The decision finds that crimes committed during protracted military engagement between governments and organized groups both within and across state borders fall under the mandate of the Geneva Conventions and Protocol II. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine’s report clearly builds on this tradition.

The Commission report coincides with the completed exhumation of a mass burial site in Izium containing 436 bodies. Of those, 30 allegedly show signs of torture, summary execution, and/or genital mutilation. The region’s Governor, Oleh Syniehubov, further asserted that 99 percent of the exhumed bodies showed signs of violent death, a number which has yet to be supported by a formal forensic accounting of the exhumation. At least three other mass burial sites have been identified as of this time in the surrounding region and can expect to be exhumed in due time.

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